Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Very Merry Year: March

So, instead of going crazy with holiday baking last year, I decided that it would be much more fun to spread the joy out over the year and gift someone each month (or so) with something lovely from my kitchen.

The third recipient is...
Our friend Jessica, whose birthday was early this month, and who is as sunny and fun as these cookies! We used our Playdough Cookie recipe, and I shaped her name into cookies and a few other cute shapes too, then we "pasted" them onto a card with powdered sugar and water (edible glue) for her birthday card! I used rum extract and vanilla in the dough rather than just vanilla. They were fab (oh, and Madeline also fashioned the planets in dough, which the kids ate themselves. Happy Birthday Jessie Bear!! We love you!
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Coconut Heaven — and 15 Years!!

It's a tradition of sorts for Joel and I to have a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake on our anniversary. There have been years that we've had a different "birthday" cake or pie, but usually it's coconut, and there are always candles. Always. This year, I decided to bake a coconut cake, complete with cracking a fresh coconut. It was fabulous...
And, my sous-chef-in-training LOVED using a hammer in the kitchen!
It was pretty fun when Erik and I realized that one of the pieces broke into a "C" shape during the cracking, hulling and peeling process!

Fresh Coconut Cake
(recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens, April 2010)

5 eggs (at room temp)
1 c. unsalted butter (room temp - I used 1/2 salted and 1/2 un.)
1 c. whole milk (room temp)
3 c. sifted cake flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. sugar
1 Tbs. vanilla

3 egg whites (at room temp)
2 c sugar
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 c. hot water
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
1 fresh coconut, husked, peeled and shredded (use your food processor) about 3-4 cups

Cakes: Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Let eggs, milk and butter stand at room temp for 30 mins. before beginning. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Prepare 3 8-inch pans with parchment in the bottom and grease & flour all pans. In Kitchenaid, beat butter for 30 seconds, add sugar and vanilla and beat on medium about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Then add flour and milk alternately, beating on low until just combined. Batter should be satin-smooth when ready. Divide between three pans and bake 20-25 minutes. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely.

Coconut: Pierce eye of coconut to drain coconut milk, then strike all over with hammer, on a towel until husk cracks. Remove husk, and then peel brown skin from coconut meat with vegetable peeler. Shred coconut with grater attachment in your food processor.

Frosting: Combine sugar, cream of tartar and water in medium pan over medium-low heat until sugar is dissolved. Cover and bring to boil, then boil 2 minutes. Attach candy thermometer and cook, without stirring until 240-degrees F (5-10 mins).
If your candy thermometer is broken and you let this reach 250 (like I did), the frosting will be less fluffy/lower in volume, so test that thermometer and keep an eye on the syrup. Meanwhile, in Kitchenaid with whisk attachment, beat eggs until frothy, then add the 1/4 tsp. salt and beat on high until stiff peaks form. When the syrup is 240, stream it into the eggs whites with mixer on low. Beat in the vanilla and increast spped to med-high. Beat until light and fluffy (3-4 minutes).

Assemble cake by layering frosting and cake layers, then frosting the whole cake with the remaining frosting. Finally, apply the coconut to the top and sides of cake with your hands quickly and press down to "stick." Enjoy!! Serves 16.

To choose a good coconut, make sure it feels heavy for its size (compare others), and shake it. You should hear the coconut milk sloshing around inside. If the one you pick is bad, return it to the store for another! Really, the fresh coconut is worth the trouble (we had fun doing it).

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Magically Delicious!

That's right, it was a magically delicious St. Patrick's Day. We adore Ireland, and so our family was decked out in green today, and we invited Margo (a fellow fan of the Green Isle) over for dinner. Here's our before and after...

I did real Irish Soda Bread (not the American version), a rustic apple tart (a common dessert we found in Ireland), and of course, corned beef with cabbage, carrots and tatties (cooked with one chopped up Golden Delicious apple and 1/2 a bottle of Blonde Ale)! After dinner, I chopped the corned beef and potatoes up to turn into hash tomorrow morning.

Rustic Irish Apple Tart

Preheat oven to 400-degrees F

3 peeled, cored, sliced Granny Smith apples and
1 peeled, cored sliced Gala apple
1/4 c. sugar
1 Tbs. flour
cinnamon to taste

Mix up your filling, and let it sit while you prep your crust. When crust is ready, dump apples on crust, even out and then fold the edges of the crust over around the perimeter of the pan. Bake until golden brown and fragrant (I have no idea how long I baked this... really... I use my nose to tell me when baked goods are done (I do keep an eye on them of course to prevent burning).

1.25 c. flour
1 cube cold butter
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. cold water

Cut butter into flour and salt, add water to form dough. Roll out and transfer into 12-inch well-seasoned cast iron pan.
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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cat In The Hat Cake

Well, of course there was a cake for the Dr. Seuss party! Although, technically it was a jelly roll (thank you for the inspiration, Amelia Bedelia ala Peggy Parish!). The frosting is tinted whipped cream (with powdered sugar and vanilla), and the brim of the hat was formed from my favorite Play Dough cookie recipe.

Cat In The Hat Cake adapted from
Daisy Martinez (Daisy Cooks!) Brazo de Gitano, or "Gypsy's Arm"

Vegetable cooking spray
¾ cup sifted cake flour (you can make your own with corn starch and flour*)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
For the filling
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipped cream cheese at room temperature
One 17-ounce jar guava jelly or 1.5 cups strawberry jelly

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven 350° F. Grease a 13 x 18-inch jelly roll pan with vegetable cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper or waxed paper. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Beat the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a bowl with a handheld mixer) at medium-high speed until foamy. Add the sugar gradually in three batches and continue beating until very fluffy and pale yellow.

2. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the eggs in three batches, folding each one into the egg mixture with a rubber spatula until just a few streaks of white remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer, making sure to poke it into the corners. Bake until the cake is golden brown and it feels spongy not tacky to the touch, 14 to 16 minutes. After the cake cools to the touch, roll it up (starting at the shorter end) and let it continue to cool rolled up (makes it easier to roll with filling later).

3. Make the filling: Beat the heavy cream and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a bowl with a handheld mixer) until it is fluffy. Add the vanilla and continue beating until the cream holds soft peaks when the beater is lifted from it. Add the cream cheese half at a time and beat just until blended into the cream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

4. Line your work surface with a sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Invert the cake onto the paper and lift off the pan. Peel the paper off the top of the cake. Spread the jelly in an even layer over the cake, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges. Do the same with the cream cheese mixture. Starting at one of the short sides, roll the cake up into a compact roll, working gently to avoid tearing the cake or squeezing the filling out. Set the cake seam side down on a serving platter. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day before serving.

5. To serve, pipe tinted (and sweetened) whipped cream onto the "hat" in alternating red and white stripes. Add cookie brim. Enjoy!

*Basically, sift all-purpose flour, then measure out 1 cup. Remove 2 Tbs. of flour and replace with 2 Tbs. of corn starch, then sift several times. Measure out the amount you need. To make 2 cups of cake flour, it would be 1.75 cups all-purpose and .25 cups of corn starch.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kitchen In Hand!

A few months ago, I spotted this fabulous tutorial for a roll-up kitchen play mat on the Balancing Everything blog, and immediately thought of my niece Sophia. She has a great play kitchen in her bedroom (that was her mom's when she was little), but a roll-up kitchen would be perfect to take to her dad's house on the weekend. Or leave there on a shelf. Really, she could take it anywhere she wanted... in her bean teepee in the summer even.

So, with her 5th birthday looming in the very near future, I got my trusty helper to assist with construction. He loved it!

To round out the gift, I commissioned my friend Jen to crochet a soup pot and some bowls to go with the kitchen. She did all of the pieces free hand, and they are beautiful. I love the soup kettle. It's perfect! And, being the fabulous gal she is, Jen made some bonus produce as well!
I used wool felt, backed with cotton and hand stitched the kitchen elements to the "counter" with charcoal gray embroidery floss. Oh, I also increased the dimensions of the kitchen to 28" x 13" (before sewing) since I think my printed-out template must have been larger than the original tutorial. My burners are a little more than 5.5" in diameter.

I added a bag of a dozen felt mezzaluna ravioli (or empanadas, wee pastries, or cookies), and re-purposed a Gelatiamo salted caramel gelato pint to hold four brown circular felt bean bags (filled with lentils) that can be scoops of gelato for Sophia's bowls (or cookies, brownies, pies, burgers...) — I was going for general shapes that could easily be something else. If only managing a real kitchen were so easy!

I'll be making more of these for other wee ones for sure!! My kids need one for their playhouse too. Again, the "recipe" for this one is right here. And, if you need a fabulous soup pot, bowls or produce, just contact this gal by leaving a comment on Twist & Loop.

It was just so fun that I had to make one for Gramma too! E helped with this kitchen mat as well, and he preferred the dark blue to the gold of Sophia's. Personally, I love the cotton backing fabric, and the style of the burners which I copied directly from M & E's wooden play kitchen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

I do! I like them, Sam I Am!!

The coolest Green Eggs around... from Jamie & John's chickens (from CC I think...) — we get eggs, the chickens get our slugs, and everyone is happy!
Dinner tonight: Green Eggs & Ham (I used neon green food color since any other "green" wouldn't fly with E), turkey ham and baked sweet potato fries.
They did! They liked it, Sam I Am!!!
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